Thanks to the Neolithic Half Marathon, I am officially back in love with running again. The force was with us on May 4th in Salisbury where we started the run (described as a ‘run’ not a ‘race’ by the events organisers), the sun was shining and the wind levels weren’t ridiculously high. With the elements working in our favour, all we had to do was run, and run hard.
If you haven’t heard of the Neolithic Half, you soon will. It’s becoming increasingly popular, as I queued up for the coach to take me from Stonehenge (finishing point) to the start in Avebury (Redhorn Hill, Salisbury) I overheard a fellow runner saying how the event was fully booked this year. This is incredible news considering the whole day is dedicated to not only runners, but walkers and cyclists to help raise money for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. I’m always confused about how to refer to the race, on the website the half marathon is called the Sarsen Trail, but my race number had Neolithic Half above it – the Sarsen Neolithic run may just cover it.
I wish I could take back the nerves and replace them with excitement, this was soon unfolding into being a great day, how many times can you say you saw a chopper flying over your head as you park up to a race?!
Most runners are familiar with the common etiquette of race day, warming up furiously, stretching muscles sometimes just to calm your nerves or obsessively working out the route the night before – with the Sarsen Trail, you sit on hay stacks chatting with friends waiting for the organisers to call all runners to the start line. I don’t even think there was an official start line, the organiser didn’t have a gun or a whistle. The run started with the organiser asking us if we were ready, Gladiators referee style, and the collective runners shouting back YES. To have him saying ‘Well, I guess this starts the race…. GO!’ was hilarious. I was so amused by the laissez-faire approach to this run, (in comparison to the very serious Bristol Half last year) that I nearly ran into a mahoosive puddle that spanned 5 metres near the start line. (Read about the 11 things I’ve learnt about half marathons here)
The first four miles just flew by, which rarely happens to me in a race situation, I get all anxious and begin to think about every step I’m taking, constantly evaluating if I’m out of breathe or if I feel tired. My running buddy, Rachael and I were running a good pace with the first four miles averaging at 8:30 each mile (8:37, 8:24, 8:29, 8:29) we were occasionally sharing the song that was on our playlist or pointing out some amazing part of the scenery which was unfolding infront of us. This leads me to my next point… the scenery.
The most scenic running experience..
The Neolithic/Sarsen trail cuts across field planes so there’s a fair amount of ups and downs, but in terms of hill gradients, they were all fairly manageable and the curiosity of what was over the hill took over the slight feeling of cramp or tiredness in your thighs. The route cuts through military fields where army barracks are based, on Mile 5 we saw army tanks driving down a side path about 100m away from us – I nearly waved like I used to wave at firefighters in fire engines but couldn’t quite imagine a camouflage hat popping out the tank and waving back. And there’s nothing worse than not getting a wave back. We also saw amazing signs like the one pictured above – I have genuinely never felt so concerned about running off course than during this run!
All in all, the route was great, there was a couple of roads that we had to cross to follow the route with a Safety man that directed us over and was SO safe that he wished us all a very “safe day”. By Mile 9 there were a few people who I had recognised as my pacers and was overtaking them only for them to overtake me, a bit of friendly competition never hurts anyone!? When it came to massage time at the end of the race, one of my pacer-competitors said how she kept on seeing me throughout the race but said I was running a strong race – feedback like this means the world to me!
The 2014 route was a new route which was sent out to us only a week before the event. I thought I’d check it out on the morning of the race to discover DANGER AREA written across the map. Cool.
Crossing the line felt so good with someone shouting ‘YOU CAN STILL GET 1H51!!!’ was amazing, even a cyclist was shouting ‘I’ll race you to the finish line!’ so I sprinted will any reserve energy that I had left over… I beat the cyclist! Wahoo.
The massage at the end was much appreciated and when your masseuse is a handsome Dutch man who has to lower your shorts to reach your lower back I realised there were some hidden perks to this race..
I will definitely do this run again and I will always recommend it to other people who are after doing a race that’s a bit different. The race never felt over crowded, it’s difficult to call a number on it but I reckon there were about 300 people doing the half marathon (maybe a bit more?). The course terrain was a combination of gravel paths, foot paths, grass and fields and road so be sure to train on these terrains a little bit before doing this race. There were about 6-7 hills, some much longer and gradual than others but these are all manageable.
The only thing that was a bit disappointing was that the distance wasn’t the complete 13.1 miles, for some reason my GPS has logged 12.3 miles whereas Rachael’s has logged 12.7 miles so I’m just waiting for the race officials to release times/distance on the site so I can confirm. Either way, it wasn’t the full half marathon distance which was a teeny bit disappointing.
Running strong with a running buddy
This was my 2nd half marathon and Rach and I took to the start line together, we ran at the exact same pace for the first half of the race and I felt so strong knowing I was running harmoniously with someone else. Our stride lengths were exactly the same which meant we flew up hills around the same pace and coasted down hills at the same time, it was reassuring to have someone else there to consult your pace with. We both had playlists pumping out of our headphones but there was frequent communication and it just meant that you had a bit of human interaction in what is a very individual event.
Similarly when it came to the finish line it was so good to be able to high 5 someone and give them a good old hearty hug for what is achieving something amazing! Next on the calendar…Bristol 10k!
Read up on the 11 things I’ve learnt about the half marathon here.
Thanks to @rachpower10 for photos!
Find out more about the Wildlife Wiltshire Trust here
Entry to the Sarsen Half is £20 and you get a medal at the end of it.